Will U.S. TV Watchers Stand for Subtitles?


MIPCOM's hot shows are betting that international series translate.

English isn't necessarily the universal language -- at least not on upcoming primetime network dramas. The hot trend at MIPCOM, the TV market taking place in Cannes, is shows that flaunt international locations, foreign-language segments and non-U.S. actors. Take Touch, the new Tim Kring-produced drama from Fox that stars Kiefer Sutherland. At its heart, it's about the relationship between a father and his autistic son. But as in his former NBC sci-fi drama Heroes, Kring follows storylines the world over -- from Japan to Ireland to Iraq -- and keeps them true to those locales.

"When I first read the script, I wasn't fully aware that the other storylines would be in their local language," says Sutherland. "So when I sat down at the first table read and heard the two Iraqi boys do their dialogue, I was blown away. As an industry, specifically in America, we've made the terrible mistake of underestimating the audience and thinking they're not going to want to read the subtitles. That is just not true."

Steven Van Zandt, formerly of The Sopranos, has taken things a quantum leap further by starring in the Norwegian-language drama Lilyhammer, which will appear on Netflix. He is the only non-Norwegian in the cast. "There was no doubt in my mind that it was going to travel," says Van Zandt, citing authentic Norwegian detail as what should make the show a success.

Sharing a similar view is Grant Scharbo, co-executive producer on ABC's Missing, which stars Ashley Judd as a former CIA operative trying to rescue her kidnapped son. With settings in Rome, Venice, Prague and Istanbul, the show's international cast includes Adriano Giannini, Cliff Curtis, Tereza Voriskova and Sean Bean. Says Scharbo: "We set out to make an international show that would have appeal everywhere and was authentic. We didn't want to hire a bunch of American actors to put on fake accents and act like goofballs."